If you have ever read or even thumbed through a copy of Cosmopolitan, you may be familiar with the notorious “Red Hot Read,” an excerpt of erotica the editors tuck away into the back cover. Once you have mastered “the 7 best orgasm tricks in the world” or unveiled “his burning sex need” you can enjoy 800 words of hot literature.
While Cosmo has created a space to talk about sex, a subject often shrouded by secrecy, shame and taboos, the kind of sex we are seeing and reading about in the magazine is almost entirely heteronormative — and frankly — a bit too much of the same old thing.
Enter Anaïs Nin.
Nin, born in France in the early 1900s, was an American writer who is widely regarded as the first woman in the modern west to write erotica. What separates Nin’s writing from the steamy sexcapades in the back pages of Cosmo is her ability to pull the reader into beautiful stories that talk about sex as something we simply do, like going to the grocery store or tying our shoes. In her stories, sex is a subjective, sensual, every-day experience rather than a dirty, hidden secret that exists exclusively between an attractive, heterosexual couple.
That being said, sex can be daring and illicit in her stories — in one tale, a woman permits a stranger in the crowd at a public execution to take her from behind — but more than anything, it is pleasurable. Her writing is not only elegant and evocative, but it explores sex among ambiguous bodies, sisters and brothers, old men and young girls, artists and aristocrats.
“I realized he had stopped looking at my face. Suddenly, there were four of us in the room. Me, him and my breasts,” writes one Red Hot author. While Nin certainly talks about breasts and sexual organs, she employs them to emphasize pleasure in and of itself, not to objectify women or female anatomy. In fact, most of the women in her stories hold a certain sense of power over men.
And with that, I will leave you with the following passage from “The Queen,” a chapter from Little Birds, where Nin describes the effect a woman’s Medusa-like hair has on the narrator.
“This woman’s hair…it was the most sensual hair I have ever seen. Medusa must have had hair like this and with it seduced the men who fell under her spell. It was full of life, heavy, and as pungent as if it had been bathed in sperm … It was the kind of hair I wanted to wrap around my own sex. It was warm and musky, oily, strong. It was the hair of an animal … I would have been content just touching her hair.”